Support, opposition builds over in-state tuition proposal

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – A recently filed bill that wouldbenefit children living here illegally has created a stir across the state.

Democratic Sen. Joyce Elliott has proposed extendingin-state tuition to some students who came to the country illegally.

While many locally seem to know little about this bill,those who support it say it would give students a better chance to further theireducation, while others call the concept unfair.

The staff members at Hispanic Community Services Inc. inJonesboro are among those who fully support Senate Bill 915.

Gina Gomez, the HCSI executive director, says the proposalwould open up opportunities to students like those who have entered the countryillegally as children.

"Since we have already invested in those kids," Gomez said, "weneed to continue investing in them, and what would be better than investing ineducation?"

The proposal extends in-state tuition rates to anyone thathas attended an Arkansas high school for at least three years and has anArkansas high school diploma or general education certified in the state.

"It will be a benefit not just for those kids, not just forthe Latino community or for the minorities," Gomez said, "but it will be abenefit for the entire state. I think the more educated those kids are, thebetter future and the brighter future for Arkansas will be."

She says this proposal would also give young people somehope about their futures.

"Sometimes they feel there is no hope just knowing thatafter you graduate from high school, there are not possibilities for you toenroll at college or a university if you cannot afford it," Gomez explained. "So,it's just trying to make it easier for them to go to the next level and toenroll at school and to give the importance that education has for ourcommunity."

Supporters have also claimed that it would treat studentswho came to the U.S. illegally as children more fairly because many of themcurrently have to pay out-of-state rates despite having grown up and gottentheir education here.

This argument has resonated with the state's largestlobbying organization for businesses. The head of the Arkansas State Chamber ofCommerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas has backed the bill and has urgedlawmakers to approve it.

Opponents, like Phillip Keiter of Jonesboro, say theproposal seems wrong because it gives an advantage to those living hereillegally.

"If there's more money to be given out," Keiter said, "itseems to me that it should be given out to Americans."

The bill is currently pending in the state legislature.

Lawmakers are expected to discuss the proposal Friday, April5, during a hearing for the Senate Education Committee.

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